Trump's 'conscience' rule for healthcare workers struck down by U.S.
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[November 07, 2019]
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on
Wednesday voided a White House-backed rule making it easier for doctors,
nurses and other healthcare providers to avoid performing abortions and
other medical services on religious or moral grounds.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan said the "conscience"
rule was unconstitutionally coercive because it would let the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) withhold billions of
dollars of funding from hospitals, clinics, universities and other
healthcare providers that did not comply.
"Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion
lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it," Engelmayer
wrote in a 147-page decision.
The judge also said the rule was "arbitrary and capricious," and
conflicted with federal laws governing the obligations of employers to
accommodate workers' religious views, and hospitals to provide emergency
treatment to poor patients.
Engelmayer's decision covered a lawsuit by New York state, New York City
and 21 other states and municipalities that are led by Democrats or
often lean Democratic, as well as two lawsuits by Planned Parenthood and
other healthcare providers. California has filed its own lawsuit
challenging the rule.
A spokeswoman for HHS said that agency and the U.S. Department of
Justice were reviewing Engelmayer's decision.
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican running for reelection, has
made expanding religious liberty a priority, and the conscience rule has
drawn support from abortion opponents. The rule was scheduled to take
effect on Nov. 22.
New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement said the rule
would have encouraged healthcare providers to "openly discriminate"
against some patients.
"Health care is a basic right that should never be subject to political
games," James said.
Planned Parenthood also welcomed the decision. "Everyone deserves to
access the health care they need," Acting President Alexis McGill
Johnson said. "This rule put patients' needs last."
[to top of second column]
Pro-Choice and Pro-Life protesters stand outside of Planned
Parenthood as a deadline looms to renew the license of Missouri's
sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri,
U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant
The states and municipalities have said the rule could undermine
their ability to provide effective healthcare, and upend their
efforts to accommodate workers' beliefs.
Critics have also said the rule could deprive gay, transgender and
other patients of needed healthcare because some providers might
deem them less worthy of treatment.
HHS countered that the rule would help enforce conscience protection
laws that have been on the books for decades.
Engelmayer, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack
Obama, said these protections "recognize and protect undeniably
important rights," but the government's rulemaking "was sufficiently
shot through with glaring legal defects."
He also chastised HHS for making a "factually untrue" and
"demonstrably false" claim that there had been a "significant
increase" in complaints about conscience protection violations.
Plaintiffs challenging the rule included Chicago and Washington,
D.C., as well as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states where
Trump prevailed in the 2016 presidential election.
The states' case is New York et al v. U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New
York, No. 19-04676.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu
Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)
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